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Samsung Galaxy Note (AT&T and International)

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating starrating star
Carrier: Unlocked GSM and AT&T versions
Manufacturer: Samsung
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What's hot: Huge and lovely high res display, fast HSPA+ data speeds, very fast CPU, great voice quality.

What's not: This is a very large phone, import version is expensive.


Reviewed January 16, 2012 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Updated Feb. 2012 to add AT&T Galaxy Note

Update: Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is now available for all Galaxy Note variants.

Update July 30, 2012: Read our review of the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Note.

For those of you who hate to read long reviews, I'll cut to the chase: I bought the unlocked GSM version of Samsung Galaxy Note with my own personal funds in December 2011 because Samsung's US division didn't have review units available for loan. I thought I'd like it, and it turns out I loved it after a month of use. It's mine, I'm keeping it, and I'll tell you why in this review. No, it's not perfect, and I'll tell you about that too.

Samsung Galaxy Note

The Galaxy Note was Samsung's real flagship device for the close of 2011. It makes the Samsung Galaxy Nexus look a little middle of the road. While the Nexus has solid higher end specs, the Note goes for broke with the best of everything Samsung has to offer: a 1280 x 800 pixel Super AMOLED HD display, the fastest version yet of their very fast Exynos dual core CPU and a dual digitizer that supports both capacitive multi-touch and a Wacom pen. But it's big; the phone has a whopping 5.3" display, and though Samsung does their usual magic to make it supremely thin and light, it's still big. I've owned a Dell Streak, a phablet (phone/tablet) with a 5" display, so I can tolerate large smartphones. The Note is more portable but it still makes the Galaxy Nexus with its 4.65" display seem compact. Keep in mind that the Galaxy Nexus is at the large end of the mainstream spectrum given this year's big phone theme. The import Galaxy Note was for those with big pockets, literally and figuratively. While it actually does fit in my pockets, the price tag is steep because it's currently available only as an unlocked GSM phone from importers. You can use any GSM carrier's SIM card, but you'll pay the price: around $650 to $750. Mind you, the phone will work on T-Mobile and AT&T, and you'll even get 3G/4G HSPA+ 21Mbps on AT&T, but it won't work on Verizon and Sprint who use CDMA rather than GSM. I'm using it on AT&T with my standard postpaid 4G data plan and it works great. If you're on T-Mobile US, check out our review of the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Note.

The AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note is much more affordable thanks to the contract subsidy. It will cost you $299 with contract, which is higher than most smartphones on AT&T, but you get a lot for the money. It has both HSPA+ 21Mbps 4G and LTE 4G, and LTE is a strong selling point because it's much faster than AT&T's congested HSPA+ network. We routinely get 28Mbps down and 11Mbps up with only 2 bars (-90db) signal on LTE, and considerably higher with a stronger signal. The AT&T version loses Samsung's seriously fast 1.4GHz dual core Exynos CPU though, and instead it uses a very capable 1.5GHz dual core Snapdragon S3 CPU because that processor interfaces well with the LTE chipset (also made by Qualcomm).

Samsung Galaxy Note

Like all Samsung smartphones, the Note is very thin and light, and it's made of plastic. It's attractive though not high end chic looking, and it fits in the hand and pocket better than you might think. Two disclaimers: I have very large hands for a woman and I don't wear tight jeans with tiny pockets often. If your hands are small or your attire more trendy than mine, you might find the Galaxy Note is just too big. If you think the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is too large, forget about the Note. This is a big phone, folks.

The Galaxy Note is available in blue and white. Samsung describes it as blue, and that means the back cover is a very, very dark blue that generally looks black. The button configuration is pure Samsung: the power button is on the upper right just across from the volume rocker, so it's easy to accidentally hit both. The headphone jack is up top, and the pen silo and micro USB port are on the bottom. The speaker fires from the lower rear section, and the microSD card slot is under the battery cover. The import version has three front buttons, with the center home button being the mechanical clicky kind. The AT&T version goes with the more common 4 capacitive buttons for Menu, Home, Back and Search.

Samsung Galaxy Note

Above and below: the international import version of the Galaxy Note.

Samsung Galaxy Note



Deals and Shopping:




Samsung Galaxy Note Video Review

Here's our 19 minute AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note video review:


Here's our 28 minute in-depth International Samsung Galaxy Note video review:


The phone's insanely high resolution 1280 x 800 pixel Super AMOLED HD display is easy on the eyes. Android does a good job of scaling UI elements so you won't need a magnifying glass to see things. After all, 1280 x 800 is the standard resolution for 10" Android tablets and select higher end 7" tablets. All those pixels make for supremely sharp text and plenty of detail when viewing high res photos and video. The display uses a Pentile matrix, but we didn't notice telltale color fringing or jaggy text thanks to the very high resolution. Super AMOLED displays tend to have a blue color cast, but Samsung clearly went with the best display panel they could design, and calibrated colors for nearly neutral tones. Our phone showed no banding when viewing blacks.

The Galaxy Note has a Wacom dual digitizer, and that means it has both capacitive multi-touch and an included S Pen that works with the active digitizer. It's much more precise and fluid for drawing vs. a capacitive stylus and it supports 256 levels of pressure sensitivity, which artists will love. Samsung ships the import version with several pen-aware apps and there are more in Samsung's download portal on the phone. The AT&T version ships with S Memo and the mini widget version, but it lacks S Planner and there are currently no pen-aware downloadable programs in Samsung's app store on the phone (this may change after the phone is released). If an app isn't pen-savvy, you're out of luck. Adobe Reader doesn't support use of the pen, for example, but there are third party PDF apps that do. Given the Note's size and pen, it actually feels like a real note pad replacement: nice. The pen stows in a silo located on the bottom edge of the phone. If you're looking for a pocket digital sketchbook or note pad, the Galaxy Note does the job perfectly. Our AT&T version's pen calibration wasn't good out of the box, but dragging the pen from edge to edge (side to side and top to bottom) repeatedly recalibrated the pen and it's spot-on now.

Performance and Horsepower

It's no secret that Samsung's dual core Exynos CPU is one of the fastest mobile CPUs available. The Galaxy Note currently has the highest clocked Exynos, and it runs at 1.4GHz (same as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus tablet). The import Note benchmarks higher than all other Android smartphones we've tested so far. Keep in mind that the Note is pushing more pixels around than other phones, so it has more work to do in the graphics department for benchmarks. Here are the numbers:

International Samsung Galaxy Note (1.4GHz dual core Exynos):

Quadrant 4088
AnTuTu 6468
Linpack multi-thread: 105
Sunspider 1920

The AT&T version with the 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual core CPU with Adreno 220 graphics is the second fastest dual core on the block as of this writing. It's used in several LTE phones on AT&T and Verizon since it interfaces with Qualcomm's LTE chipset efficiently. Though not quite as fast on synthetic benchmarks, it's more than fast enough for any task including Adobe Flash playback, 1080p video playback and 3D gaming.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note (1.5GHz dual core Snapdragon S3):

Quadrant 3310
AnTuTu 6313
Linpack multi-thread: 79
Sunspider 2817
Nenamark2: 36fps

How about perceived performance? Both models feel very fast, though we noticed occasional micro-lag when navigating the home screen and launcher on the import version but not the AT&T version. The Note does run the latest version of Samsung's TouchWiz UI, which may weigh down the phone a bit, but we actually like what Samsung has done with TouchWiz, so we won't complain. The Galaxy Note has no trouble playing HD video including 720p to the internal panel and 1080p to the internal panel and an HD TV via MHL adapter (not included but you can pick one up at carrier stores for $20).

The smartphone runs Android OS 2.3 Gingerbread with a promised upgrade to Android OS 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It has a gig of RAM and 16 gigs of internal storage plus an available microSD card slot under the battery cover. Internal storage is partitioned with 1.7 gigs for app installation and 10.84 gigs for data (the rest is used by the OS).

Phone and Data

The AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note is quad band GSM with triband 3G and 4G HSPA+ 21Mbps (850/1900/2100MHz). It has 4G LTE on AT&T's 700MHz band.

The import Samsung Galaxy Note is sold in the US unlocked for GSM networks. It's a quad band GSM world phone. It has 3G and 4G HSPA+ 21Mbps on the 850/900/1900/2100MHz bands, and that means you'll get 3G/4G HSPA+ overseas and on AT&T but not T-Mobile in the US.

The AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note averaged 29Mbps down and 11Mbps up with a middling 2-3 bar signal on LTE 4G. We've seen it go as high as 38Mbps down and 16Mbps up with a stronger signal. That's faster than many folks' home broadband connections, and the AT&T Note makes a wonderful mobile hotspot for your tablet or laptop. The hotspot feature is included with 4 and 5 gig/month data plans.

The import Note's download speeds on AT&T averaged 6Mbps down and 1.3Mbps up according to the app, which is average for HSPA+ AT&T phones in our area. Our AT&T Note managed the same on HSPA+. That's plenty fast for responsive web page downloads and app downloads from the Android Market.

As a voice phone, both versions of the Galaxy Note are wonderful. It has very clear incoming and outgoing voice and better than average volume. Samsung's Galaxy S II phones have had very good voice overall, and the Note takes it up a notch better vs. the Galaxy S II and Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket on AT&T. Both phones likewise sounded very good with a variety of Bluetooth headsets like the Jawbone 2 and Motorola H730 as well as our BMW built-in Bluetooth. The Note has Bluetooth 3.0 +HS.

Camera and Multimedia

The Samsung Note uses the same 8 megapixel rear main camera module as the Galaxy S II phones, and it takes colorful and sharp photos as well as pleasing though not groundbreaking 1080p video. The camera is prone to overexposure in high contrast brightly lit outdoor settings, just as with the S II, but otherwise we have no complaints. Indoor photos show relatively little noise, and the flash doesn't overexpose subjects at close range. 1080p video looks smooth at 30fps, and has a good amount of detail and color saturation, though there's some motion blockiness typical of camera phones. The 2 megapixel front camera worked well with Google Talk video chat and Skype in our tests. We looked clear with good illumination over HSPA+ and WiFi.

For such a large phone, you'd think there would be room for some serious stereo speakers. Instead the Note has a decent mono speaker that's decently loud but not louder than the pack of 4.5" and above smartphones. Sound is reasonably full but you'll want to plug in a set of headphones for best audio quality, or stream to Bluetooth speakers. The phone has a 3.5mm jack and an FM radio with RDS.

WiFi and Connections

The Samsung has WiFi 802.11b/g/n with average reception for a smartphone and it has Bluetooth 3.0 + HS. You get Kies Air syncing over WiFi and WiFi Direct as well as DLNA for streaming media. HDMI out comes via an optional MHL adapter that plugs into the phone's micro USB port. The phone can mount as a standard mass storage device (thankfully for Mac users), and it can do Samsung's Kies syncing over USB and WiFi to Windows machines plus MTP. Samsung says the micro USB port supports USB Host (with a USB host cable, aka USB OTG cable). We checked with our trusty USB host cable, but couldn't get this feature to work with flash drives, hard drives, keyboards or mice.

The phone has a GPS with A-GPS and Glonass (the Russian GPS satellite system), and it ships with the usual Google Maps, Navigation and Places (the AT&T version also comes with AT&T Navigator and Family Maps). The Note quickly found our location indoors and proved a trustworthy companion for in-car navigation. The Galaxy Note has a digital compass.


The international version comes with more pen-aware apps and Samsung's download portal to grab more. So far, the AT&T version gets the game Crayon Physics and S Planner plus the mini version of S Planner, and that's it. We hope Samsung will provide additional downloads for the AT&T version.

Both versions ship with Samsung's Media Hub (movies and TV shows for rental and purchase), Social Hub social networking, Polaris Office full version, Samsung task and file manager, AllShare DLNA, Voice Recorder and Mini Diary. All the standard Google Android apps are on board such as Maps, Navigation, YouTube, Gmail, Books, Music, News & Weather, the Webkit web browser with Adobe Flash and the Android Market.

AT&T includes their usual small army of apps with the US version of the Galaxy Note. These include AT&T Navigator and Family Maps, YPMobile, AT&T Code Scanner, Featured Apps, AT&T Ready2Go, Amazon Kindle, AT&T Live TV, mSpot Movies (streaming and downloadable movie service with somewhat high prices) and Qik Lite for video chat (we prefer Skype, which works well).

Battery Life

You're thinking: big screen, really fast CPU and fast data: the battery life must stink. But battery life on LTE with the AT&T version is actually similar to AT&T's other LTE phones like the Skyrocket. I make it through the day on a charge with moderate use that includes email, a few short calls, web browsing and watching a few YouTube videos. It helps that the phone has a large 2500 mAh Lithium Ion battery, which is quite large for a standard battery. The HSPA+ version lasts longer since it's not as power hungry as LTE, and I routinely manage 1.5 days on a charge. If you're not in an LTE coverage area, expect HSPA+ runtimes.

Samsung does go a little overboard with the display power management, and there's an option that's turned on by default that adapts backlight to colors currently displayed (all Galaxy S II smartphones have this feature). That means light and white backgrounds trigger power management to further dim the display and web pages can look a bit too dim. Likewise, the ambient light sets the display too dim for my tastes, rendering it useless indoors. It does do a good job of increasing brightness to combat outdoor light, however.


The international Samsung Galaxy Note was the best Android smartphone of 2011 and the AT&T version makes for the best of early 2012 if you're looking for a pocket computer more than a voice phone. It has a superb display running at an extremely high resolution, a very useful Wacom digitizer with pen for pressure sensitive writing and drawing and a very fast dual core CPU. It's thin, attractive and though very large, can still fit in a pocket as well as medium to large hands.

Voice quality for calls is excellent whether using the handset or a Bluetooth headset, data speeds are very good and the GPS is solid. There's really nothing we don't like about the phone except the size, which is a bit awkward and is unmanageable for those with smaller hands.



Price: $299 with contract, $649 without contract for AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note.

$650 to $750 for the unlocked GSM version from importers.


Samsung Galaxy Note

Directly above and below: the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy Note.

Samsung Galaxy Note


Samsung Galaxy Note

The iPhone 4S and HTC Titan on top of the Galaxy Note.


Samsung Galaxy Note


Samsung Galaxy Note

Above: the international version.
Below (2 photos): the AT&T version.

Samsung Galaxy Note

Samsung Galaxy Note



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Display: 5.3" Wacom capacitive multi-touch display with active digitizer and pen. Resolution:1280 x 800, supports both portrait and landscape modes. Has an accelerometer and an ambient light sensor. Other sensors: digital compass and barometer.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 2500 mAh.

Performance: AT&T model: 1.5GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 CPU with Adreno 220 graphics. International version: 1.4GHz Samsung Exynos processor with hardware graphics acceleration. Both models have 1 gig RAM and 16 gigs internal storage.

Size: 5.78 x 3.27 x 0.38 inches. Weight: 6.28 ounces.

Phone: AT&T version: quad band GSM with triband 3G/4G HSPA+ and LTE 4G on the 700MHz band. International GT-N7000 model: GSM quad band world phone with EDGE. 3G and 4G HSPA+ 21Mbps on the 850/900/1900/2100MHz bands. Compatible with AT&T 3G and 4G HSPA+.

Camera: 2 MP front camera and 8 MP rear main autofocus camera with LED flash. Can shoot 1080p video.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0 + HS. AT&T model has NFC.

Software: Android OS 2.3.6 Gingerbread with Samsung TouchWiz UI. Free upgrade to Android 4.0.4 is available using Samsung Kies desktop software. Standard suite of Android apps plus Samsung apps including their app store and Media Hub. Samsung S Memo and S Note apps for pen input.

Expansion: 1 microSD card slot. Supports USB Host according to Samsung, but this feature didn't work for us.


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